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[Herald Interview] Hauser & Wirth shrugs off doubts about Hong Kong as art capital of Asia

By Park Yuna

Published : Jan. 29, 2024 - 14:18

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Hauser & Wirth Managing Partner Asia Elaine Kwok poses at the gallery’s opening with the inaugural exhibition by Chinese artist Zhang Enli entitled Hauser & Wirth Managing Partner Asia Elaine Kwok poses at the gallery’s opening with the inaugural exhibition by Chinese artist Zhang Enli entitled "Faces" (Hauser & Wirth)

HONG KONG -- International gallery Hauser & Wirth has cemented its presence in Hong Kong with its move to a new location in the Central District last week. The three-story space is easily sighted and accessed.

“We wanted to be on the street level and we wanted to stay in the center," the Swiss gallery’s Managing Partner Asia Elaine Kwok told The Korea Herald on Jan. 23 at the new space in Hong Kong.

"This is a really fantastic space – not only it is on the ground floor, it's got a 4-meter-high ceiling and no columns. That is very rare," she said.

The gallery's sole space in Asia is located at 8 Queen’s Road Central. Previously it occupied the 15th and 16th floors of H Queen's building, along with other megasized galleries in the same building. Now, it has its feet on the ground.

“What we are able to do here is to have a large hall. I feel there is also a great community of galleries and art spaces here. Tai Kwun (a culture compound in Hong Kong once used as a prison complex) and auction houses are going to have their galleries here as well. We expect higher visitor numbers and more of our artists to be excited,” she said.

An installation view of Zhang Enli's solo exhibition An installation view of Zhang Enli's solo exhibition "Faces" at Hauser & Wirth's new space at 8 Queen’s Road Central in Hong Kong (Courtesy of the gallery and artist)

The gallery tapped Chinese artist Zhang Enli, the first Asian artist to work with the Swiss gallery, for the first solo exhibition at the new space. He unveiled his new abstract paintings in the exhibition “Faces,” which kicked off Wednesday.

Kwok said the gallery had built rapport with artists, collectors and institutions for over a decade before opening a physical space in the city in 2018, and with the new street-level space, she wants the gallery to permeate the Hong Kong art scene more deeply.

“Before we opened, we wrapped the building and people who might not be in the art world would say ‘Oh Hauser & Wirth? What is it?’ They will familiarize themselves with the gallery now, and I really hope and love the idea that someone on their lunch break walking in Central to be curious and come in to look at the exhibition.

“We want to sell the works, but on the other hand, we also want more people to see exhibitions and to learn about the artists we present and their practice. That is what the street-level gallery will bring to the community,” she said.

When it comes to the art market in Asia and skepticism over Hong Kong's role amid recent political tension, she showed confidence in Hong Kong's position in leading the Asian art scene, a status it has maintained for decades. The collectors’ enthusiasm for work by the artists that the gallery presents is proof of that, she said.

“We work in the primary market, and for many of our artists they have a waiting list (of collectors wanting to make purchases). So what we are doing is we are collecting interest, looking at people and determining what is the best placement for the artist.

“We have been here (in Hong Kong) for Art Basel, which is returning in March to the full size of 240 galleries, which is back to the size of pre-pandemic,” Kwok said.

She stressed art institutions including the M+ museum have provided good programs and bring quality exhibitions, and that other art market players such as Sotheby’s, Christie's and Phillips are "doubling down" on the city, upgrading their spaces.

“Now everyone knows there is no more travel restrictions and no more masks,” she said. "It is a very exciting time to be in Hong Kong."

“Faces” runs through March 9.